Reader’s Forum–Al Bell

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Al Bell (R) with activists from Open Primaries and Independent Voters for Arizona, May 2016

A Marshall Plan for America:  a review by Al Bell of Part Six of Who Stole the American Dream? By Hedrick Smith: Challenge and Response

Hedrick Smith tells the story—quite tellingly—of how and why the American Dream is in trouble. He ends by suggesting ten steps—a Marshall Plan for America—for turning that around. This review focuses on those steps.

Now, four years after its writing, is this still worth reading? Absolutely. Are the action steps still relevant? Same answer. The reason: force and counterforce have reached fever pitch in the current political attack on historic governance institutions. Anger at everything, trust of nothing, and mountains of money seem to drive our politics. Limited progress on a few fronts leave the situation still grim.

This book joins many others in proposing approaches to long-festering American issues. This is beyond the focus of the Independent Movement specifically, which seeks to enfranchise independent voters, enabling them to participate in and influence our governance. Yet, I believe these excursions are essential. After all, a major purpose for seeking a better electoral process is to achieve a better governance outcome. Strengthening voting is both an end and a means.

I have clustered the steps in a somewhat different order and add only one step from a different source (the author’s sequence appears in parentheses). This is, in part, my attempt to consider circumstances now compared to 2012. You are perfectly welcome to shoot holes in my sequence; just don’t shoot the messenger!

  1. (5) Fix the Corporate Tax Code to Promote Job Creation at Home.
  2. (4) Make the U.S. Tax Code Fairer

Like it or not, politics follows the money. I view these as an indivisible couplet. A sliver of bipartisan light seems to be shining on improving our bizarre taxation system. Congress needs to demonstrate—for itself and for Americans generally—that it can actually solve real problems. Maybe these will break the logjam.

  1. (10) Mobilize the Middle Class
  2. (9) Rebuild the Political Center

This is the terrain of IndependentVoting.org and others focused on voting equity for the largest segment of American voters. I note that: 1) the independent voting movement is already well started and will continue to mature, 2) these initiatives currently operate despite congressional, presidential and party nonfeasance, and 3) success on steps one and two could potentially help steps three and four along.

  1. (2) Push Innovation, Science and High-Tech Research
  2. (1) [Substantially Expand] Infrastructure Jobs to Compete Better

I combine these two because they are central to essential job growth and promote a desirably wide range of employment opportunities. Strong intergovernmental and public/private partnerships—many already in place—will be essential because these are such interrelated initiatives. Return on investment is immense.

  1. (3) Generate a Manufacturing Renaissance
  2. (7) Save on War and Weapons

These two steps are a natural pairing because they will need to be phased in over an extended period. Jobs lost to defense related work will need to be picked up in broader manufacturing categories. We have done this before; those memories need to be refreshed and recalibrated.

  1. (6) Push China to Live up to Fair Trade
  2. (8) Fix Housing and Protect the Safety Net

I am inclined to pull the safety net component out for specific attention and tie it to steps one and two. China relationships and the housing market are so long-term in nature that we might think of them, respectively, as ongoing foreign policy and domestic programs. Attention must be relentless and collaborative.

I suggest an added step proposed by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their recently updated book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks Was. It could be entitled “Restore Workable Procedures to the Senate.” It should appear near the top of the list. They argue that partisan tinkering with Senate rules has weakened the governance capability the Constitution expects of the Senate (this book should be high on our reading list, too).

It is often said that we are a nation of laws. That is an incomplete sentence. We are a nation of imperfect laws, written by imperfect people, through an imperfect process. Counterculture though it may be, we have to keep paying attention. Mr. Smith provides clues on where to direct that attention. We are not big on attention span, especially given the toxic war the political parties have declared on America.

It has been argued that Americans do best when confronted by a powerful and imminent threat. It’s here. It’s us, just as Pogo once observed. Nobody said that keeping a republic alive and well would be easy and they were surely right. Hedrick Smith offers ample evidence. He also presents a coherent strategy for rebuilding confidence in ourselves.

This Mr. Smith brought Washington to us. Bravo!

***

Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

 

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